Our Epistemology So Far

By: Bruce
March 24, 2011

220px-Einstein_1921_portrait2

Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground in past posts. The problem with this ‘Reason as a Guide to Reality’ series of posts is that they build on concepts from past posts. It’s easy to get lost in all the concepts. So let’s do a quick review of past ideas and build up the principles of finding truth/knowledge (i.e. Epistemology) that we’ve determined so far.

First, everything we thought we knew about science turned out to be false. Namely, science is not specifically about prediction, nor reductionism, nor holism, nor observation, nor falsification. All of those ideas are important to science, but they do not delineate a boundary for science.

Second, science is not justified by inductive thinking. The past does not determine the future. Instead, science (and all knowledge actually) is justified based on being our best explanations so far. No other justification is necessary because no other justification is possible.

Third, what constitutes an explanation is not ‘reducibility’ in some physical sense, but rather reducibility to an algorithm. (Though this alone is not enough either.) That is to say, all things in the physical universe that can be understood are understood through being able to convert them to computation. (At least so far.) 

Fourth, the primary means of gaining new knowledge is through coming up with conjectures (theories) and then over time refuting them. This forms a ‘natural selection’ or ‘survival of the fittest’ of ideas and explanations of reality, thus guaranteeing scientific progress that gets closer and closer to reality.

Fifth, refuting of a theory must always be in favor of a new and better theory. We do not refute theories by merely pointing out explanation gaps in existing ones but instead by finding a better one that explains more. A ‘rejectionist’ approach that only points to problems in the existing theory will never dislodge the prevailing theory on it’s own.

Sixth, conjecture and refutation is not, alone, enough. There is also a significant role to be played by the objective existence of the value-laden nature of reality. Therefore rational elegance and beauty play significant roles in discovering truth.

Final Thoughts:

Here we are, talking about the greatest mysteries of the Universe and it’s hard to get a discussion started. That’s life I guess.

Due to conflicts at work, I am going to be soon taking a break from Wheat and Tares. I will continue my thoughts over at Millennial Star as I have time, so look for me there.

There is still so much to discussion. For example, how epistemology and evolution tie together, how all this ties to theories of consciousness, and speculations on how it might tie to doctrines about God. But life sometimes gets in the way.

It’s been fun developing these thoughts on how we gain knowledge and I hope some of you enjoyed these as much as I did writing them.

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7 Responses to Our Epistemology So Far

  1. FireTag on March 24, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    Bruce:

    I have enjoyed this series immensely, and I’m sorry that life has kept me from discussion as much as it has.

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  2. Bored in Vernal on March 24, 2011 at 6:55 PM

    Thank you for joining us, Bruce. I’m glad you are going to continue your thoughts over at M*. See you there!

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  3. Syphax on March 24, 2011 at 8:18 PM

    This series has rocked in every way possible (in every possible world).

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  4. Mark A. Clifford on March 25, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    I rarely comment, but I have to say this.
    This series of posts has been extremely edifying. My son (14) and I read these together and discuss them, then we subject the rest of the famlily to them at the dinner table.
    Thank you for providing a means for me to talk about these very relevant issues with my teen. We have enjoyed each and every one of them. I am a permalurker at BCC, T+S, and Wheat and Tares, and these are among the most enjoyable.
    I wonder a little if they are so bright that folks are reticent to comment…

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  5. Bruce on March 25, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    Thank you so much everyone for the encouraging comments. Especially you, Mark A, for telling me that you and your son discuss my posts together and then force others at the dinner table to hear about it. That’s what I wanted to hear. ;)

    I confess, I really really wish I could have been a popular science writer or something like that. So since that is not likely to happen, this is my only outlet for that impulse. It’s nice to know it’s not a failure.

    Here is the honest truth: I pre-wrote all these posts months ago. I was writing new ones as I posted pre-written ones. But then I got this really big project at work. I was very actively involved with M* (Millennial Star) at the time and had to substantially cut back my duties there as well.

    This is all very good, however, because this project is going to lock me in for another two years at my job probably. (In my fantasies, perhaps just long enough to save enough money to go back to school and pursue said above dream.)

    Also, I am predicting another massive hit to the economy still (I should do a blog post on my economic forecast sometime) so ‘locking in’ is really important to me right now to hopefully ride out the storm that I think is likely later this year or maybe next year. (Note: my financial forecasts are no more accurate than anyone else’s, so don’t look to me for advice.)

    So with the extra concentration at work, something had to give and I ended up having my W&T posts catch up to where I only have a few left before I’m going to start having to write new ones. (I’ll do the remaining ones on M*, though they sort of leave you hanging.)

    I started working on some new ones and just can’t find the time to polish them to the point where I am comfortable with them. So in many ways this is a good place to stop for now. I was struggling with how to segue into the next thread of my series which was either going to be ‘What is Morality?’ or ‘What is consciousness?’ Both of those subjects are much more challenging then epistemology, so they are proving difficult to write anyhow.

    However, I have not stopped writing all together. I am still ‘actively’ (once a week about) working on more posts. They just aren’t progressing as fast as I’d like.

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  6. Ben Pratt on March 25, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    Bruce, your output has been impressive regardless of when it was prepared. I suspect many of the best bloggers do what you just described.

    Also, I think Mark’s last point is correct, though I can only speak for myself. I haven’t ever come up with much to say in response to your posts because they’re so darn well-thought-out, and where you make assumptions they tend to line up with my own.

    Anyway, congrats on the work project. Economic forecasts is definitely something I could discuss at greater length.

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  7. raedyohed on March 28, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    This series has been slow going for me, but has been and will continue to be a valuable introduction to science and epistemology, as I wade my way through it. Thanks!

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